Atari Poop

Atari Poop – China Syndrome

China Syndrome is a 1982 action/puzzle/shooter-ish game for the Atari 2600 sandwiched between two unbelievable conspiracy theories.

China Syndrome Box

As for the first conspiracy, have a look online and you’ll find out that China Syndrome refers to either a movie, this video game, or a theory regarding the safety of nuclear power plants and that the first two are loosely based on the third. It appears that some people thought the power plants made in the 60s weren’t very safe. In particular, there were worries that a loss of coolant could potentially cause a meltdown where everything would burn through the bottom of the reactor and continue straight through the centre of the Earth, and exploding on the other side in China.

Now, you might be thinking “What were these people, idiots?! China isn’t on the opposite side of the Earth in relation to the U.S.!” You’d be right to think this, to a certain extent. China isn’t at the opposite end of the world; however, the reason it’s called the China syndrome and not the Australia (or somewhere off the coast of Australia) syndrome is because an American reactor never melted down straight thrown the Earth’s core and exploded on the other side in Australia.

West Korean Crater

Be that as it may, a nuclear power plant in Detroit known as Fermi 1 suffered a “partial meltdown” in 1966. Good luck finding much information about it online other than the fact that no radiation was released into the atmosphere and a lame explanation about how it happened. What you won’t find is how the reactor melted straight down into the Earth’s core and beyond, surfacing on the other side of the planet, and completely wiping West Korea from the face of the Earth. China and Russia were too scared to do much about since they thought it was some kind of new, ridiculous nuclear bomb, while the U.S. covered up the incident. Today, “no one” remembers West Korea. It isn’t on any map. Instead, you can find the Yellow Sea where it used to stand.

What better explains the fact the no radiation was released in the clean, crisp Detroit air than the fact that all the radiation went directly in the the ground? As well, I know it might sound like a crazy conspiracy theory, but when you think about it, and especially about modern day Detroit, doesn’t it make a lot of sense?

Decaying Detroit

Welcome to Detroit! At least it’s sunny.

But all of that doesn’t matter (sorry West Koreans) because we got a cool game out of it in the end, right?

In China Syndrome, your goal is to move your crosshairs (representing your robotic D.D.V arm, or decontamination defusion vacuum) across three coloured zones and shoot (technically, pick up) radioactive “particals” (that’s what’s written in the manual folks, but I’m sure they meant “particles”) before they bounce around within their respective zones too often and begin splitting into more… particals. Adding to the challenge are the large vents that begin to appear in the later levels. Touching one results in losing a robot arm (in essence, losing a life). If any of the three levels within the reactor get too many particles bouncing around, well, you’ve got yourself a meltdown, which, as the manual says: “Failure means…MELTDOWN.”

 China Syndrome Gameplay

It might sound simple and the graphics might seem terribly basic, but the game itself is surprisingly fun. If you want to get your hands on a copy of the game, you might encounter a little difficulty though. The game is somewhat rare and this is likely due to the fact that Spectravision recalled the game several months after it was released, citing a variety of made-up reasons.


Apparently, there are rumours the game over sequence caused several gamers’ heads to explode, like that guy in Scanners. The recalled games were destroyed while new, slightly altered games were sent back to retailers. These games had a few seconds removed from the game over sequence. What we were left with is one of the longest, most bizarre, ear-destroying game over sequences in the history of gaming. We can only imagine what the unaltered version must’ve been like.